Nobody needs another place to dwell on the challenges facing the world in the face of a health epidemic, so I’ll skip right past the obvious. It’s enough to acknowledge that, while everyone reading this is likely united in a shared love of games, we also share a much broader connection right now, being forced to confront a scary situation. As that crisis unfolds around us, gaming and online play has risen up to be a much more important part of life for a lot of people, many of whom might be new to the hobby. As we adjust to that reality, it’s a great time to find and embrace the best aspects of social gaming.
Why now? If you’ve been watching the numbers, gaming is booming at the moment – and for obvious reasons. Much of the country (and the wider world) is stuck inside right now. Steam is posting absurd numbers of concurrent users. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from more friends and family returning to gaming in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. I suspect you may have encountered similar conversations. And for those of us who are more frequent gamers, we all have a lot more opportunities to engage in our favorite pastime – it’s not like we’re going out to dinner or a baseball game. As these increased opportunities for gaming are upon us, there’s no doubt that other aspects of our lives have shifted. Some of us are trapped in literal solitude, living alone, and without a chance for face-to-face interaction. Others are confronting the challenge of houses too small for all the friends, partners, or kids that must all be inside at the same time – a sure recipe for going stir-crazy. In short, we could all use a good break when opportunities for social gaming arise.
So, what does it look like to try and make that experience a bit better for everybody? Every game community is going to be different, and every individual has different needs. But we should all recognize that it’s pretty normal right now to feel down or anxious, and that the escape of a fun game night might be an important relief from stress and worry. The last thing any of us need is having to deal with jerks online.
While there’s no concrete path to improving everyone’s online gaming experience in one fell swoop, there are certainly some ideas we can think about.
If you’re a dedicated player of a particular game, it’s an ideal time to reach out to the people you play with and explore opportunities that bring you together. Message your clan and try to pull together a dedicated evening where the whole clan is welcome to join and play together. Haven’t been raiding for a while? Throw together a group and tackle that old dungeon, even if you beat it three months ago. Do you miss playing D&D with friends? Think about a remote session. Do you like competitive shooters? Team up with some buddies you haven’t spoken with for a few months, and run a few matches in that one game you all own. You’re not the only person right now who is feeling weird about the current situation and being stuck in your house.
We also all have that friend who bought a PS4 or Xbox One two years ago, and then stopped logging in. Consider reaching out to see if they want to play something together. Barring that, simply invite them to join you in party chat while you play something yourself, and ask them how things are going while you complete your third playthrough of God of War.
And while I wish it could go without saying, don’t be an ass online. It’s one thing to vent a bit in a competitive match, but nobody right now needs the drama of a teammate screaming at them about a missed shot, or an opponent sending gloating messages after a win. Think for a second about the language you’re using in a match – and be respectful of all ethnicities, genders, and people in general. In short, be good to each other, especially in the current circumstances.
Finally, embrace the communities that already exist around the games we love. Whether it’s in subreddits, official forums, gaming sites, Discord channels, or anything else – we have a ton of ways these days to engage with the hobby and the people who love gaming, and now is an awesome time to enjoy that. Participate in conversations. Share your thoughts. And listen to what others have to say. The best gaming communities emerge from divergent ideas, where everybody has a chance to be heard.
Gaming isn’t a responsibility; it’s a thing most of us do for entertainment. Everyone is entitled to approach their game time in the way they like. But we’re also living through an unprecedented moment in our lifetimes, in which we are being forced to come together, largely by living apart. It’s undoubtedly strange, but if gaming has the potential to ease just a little of the burden and stress for someone else, it feels like a good time to be part of helping with that. Be well, and be good to each other.
And lastly, if you’re reading this, and you’re a person who really is struggling to confront the feelings that the last few weeks have brought up, and a night of gaming online just isn’t going to do it, there are places to turn to for help. The Disaster Distress Helpline exists for just that purpose. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also always there. Or if you’re not feeling safe at home, there’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Reach out and get the help you need.
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